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St Joseph’s rich historical heritage
Some probably came for the fun of it while others may have wanted to learn more about the T&T’s historical sites. Whatever the reason, those who participated in Saturday’s tour of St Joseph (San Jose de Oruna), walked away with more knowledge of the town that was this country’s first capital. The tour, which was hosted by the National Trust of T&T, a division of the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration, was one of several that the Ministry has planned in an effort to preserve the country’s heritage sites.
As early as 8 am, the group made up of teachers, representatives from the National Archives and National Museum, other professionals and ordinary citizens who felt it important to learn about their heritage, gathered at the National Museum on Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain to be taken to St Joseph. The tour guides for the day were Louis Homer and Jalaludin Khan and the group made its first stop at the abandoned women’s prison at Mt Hope.
Homer said the prison, which is located on the site of the Ministry of Works, was built for female prisoners but was never used. A World War II hanger donated by the American government also stands on the compound. Khan said the site actually went through three periods. He said colonial records show it was first the Mt Hope estate—an administrative headquarters. It then became the home of a colonial male prison and a military barracks before coming under the management of the Ministry of Works.
Pointing at another area on the compound, Khan said at one point it was also used for the distribution of rations to soldiers in World War II. Today it is a carpark that belongs to the Water and Sewerage Authority (Wasa), but in 1797 the spot was where the signing of the Capitulation Treaty took place. This treaty ceded Trinidad to the British, making it a colony. The building which was located at Farm Road in Curepe was gutted by fire sometime in the 20th century. It lost its place in history when Wasa began using it to stock PVC pipes.
The maxi then headed to the silver cross overlooking the Caroni plains. At St Joseph’s highest point is the 20-foot silver cross which Homer said was donated to the town in 1892 by a well-respected family in St Joseph—the Gonzales family.
It overlooks the Caroni plains and the 14 Stations of the Cross. The group also got the opportunity to visit the Mohammed Ali Jinnah Memorial Mosque otherwise known as the headquarters of the Trinidad Muslim League (TML), which was established in 1947. Briefed on the history of TML by director Farouk Khan, he said the mosque was thought to have been built on sacrifice and controversy as it had been told the money raised to build it was gained through a raffle—something unaccepted by the muslim community as it is considered gambling.
First Capital Park, formerly Barracks Square, attracts all in the community. Children often play or even have picnics there. But the square on Abercromby Street, the main artery through St Joseph, is where Donald Stewart (Daaga), a soldier in the Black Regiment, along with Edward Coffin, Maurice Ogston and Henry Torrens were executed in 1837, after a failed attempt to take over the army garrison at St Joseph.
Homer said the park was also used as a burial ground for soldiers. He took us to the southern section of the park where the tombs of two English soldiers were located.
He said they were maintained by the British High Commission. Other sites included the Silver Cannon, and the former home of Cyril Duprey, known as the father of the local insurance industry, who established the Colonial Life Insurance Company (Clico).
The house, which is still located also on Abercromby Street, is now occupied by the Montano family. The tour also stopped at the site of Trinidad’s first soap factory, owned by the Gransaull family. It was destroyed in 1930 and is now a car park. Staying on Abercromby Street, the group made its last stop at the St Joseph RC Church which is located opposite the soap factory. St Joseph one of the country’s oldest parishes, and the church was built in 1815.
Khan told the group it was built on an Amerindian settlement, and at the back of the cemetery, just outside the church, one can still see some pottery done by the natives. According to Homer, the church is the resting place of the remains of three Capuchin Friars who were killed in the Arena Masscare by Indians working on the Mission at San Raphael. He said their bodies are buried in the foundation of the church. St Joseph RC’s interior is exquisitely designed, from the ornaments, to the beautifully laid out altar which was shipped directly from Italy.
The group also got some of the church’s history from the Polish parish priest, Fr Carroll. Just outside of the church on the southern end, sits one of the country’s oldest cemeteries, holding the remains of several important Trinidad and Venezuelan nationals like the Farfans, Pedros, Hernandez and Dupreys. Homer said in the cemetery several tombs date back to the 17th century, including the tomb of the daughter of General José Gregorio Monagas. He was a general who fought in the Venezuelan War of Independence together with Simon Bolivar. Minister in the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration, Embau Moheni who also took the tour, said they will continue throughout the year. He said the tours also seek to bring the national community closer to its heritage and to take the heritage to the national community.
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